As the Los Angeles area prepares for a very toasty mid-March with temperatures in the 80s, El Niño seems like a total write-off. Despite a smattering of intense rainy days, the Pacific Ocean warming phenomenon that was supposed to bring torrential rains to SoCal ended up just gently splashing LA with only about half of its usual average rainfall amidst the second hottest February on record and a lot of summer-like days. And though some weather experts insist that it's too early to write El Niño off as a total flop, others are saying that, at best, "time is running out on restoring Southern California to above-drought rainfall levels," reports the San Gabriel Valley Tribune.
"We are basically out of time to get back to normal (precipitation), that is, unless something really weird happens," Ken Clark, an expert meteorologist with AccuWeather.com, tells the Tribune. Since October 1 (the start of the rain year), only 6.54 inches of rain have fallen, or about 53 percent of the normal rainfall. In order to get SoCal back on track with normal rainfall levels, it would have to rain "6 more inches this winter"—something that Clark thinks is "just not going to happen."
But JPL climatologist Bill Patzert warns that there still may be some redemption for El Niño on the way. "Don’t throw El Niño under the bus until the end of April," he says, noting that the El Niño of 1982-1983 was also a "late bloomer" that didn't really get cranking until March and April. (Patzert was the one who dubbed this season's El Niño a "Godzilla," so he's got some reason to stand up for it.)
In defense of this El Niño, it's been the first to get "pushed around" by a high pressure ridge that nudged all the rain that potentially meant for Southern California up north instead, to NorCal and beyond. (The Bay Area's getting solid storms.) "Seattle and Portland stole our rain," Patzer says. Oregon and Washington, also in a severe drought about six months ago, are now near normal levels he said.
Rain and snow in NorCal are good news for the whole state, though, as the Colorado River and snowpack generate water for lots of imported water buyers, though it would've been more ideal if the whole state had gotten drenched.
As dire as this all sounds, both experts agree that SoCal still might get some more rain before the season's over. "We are not done with rain," says Clark. It might come soon too: the high pressure ridge that's causing this week's warm-up is predicted to break on Sunday, "leaving the door ajar for storms to enter," says the Tribune.